Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Louisiana governor’s race 2023: What Landry vs. Schroder might look like

by BIZ Magazine

By Greg LaRose, Louisiana Illuminator

Two statewide elected officials appear headed for a showdown in the Louisiana governor’s race this fall, as Treasurer John Schroder told supporters Monday he will qualify to run. Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser also announced he would bypass the election and will instead run to keep his current seat.

The declarations come after U.S. Sen. John Kennedy announced last week he would stay out of the race. Schroder and Nungesser, both Republicans, had said their decisions would depend on whether Kennedy, also a GOP member, became a candidate for governor. U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, said in November he would not enter the field.

Schroder joins another Republican, Attorney General Jeff Landry, as declared candidates for governor. State Rep. Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville, said Monday he will announce next week whether he will run, and U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, hasn’t made clear whether he will enter the race.

State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, has also mentioned an interest in running for governor.

So far, Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson is the only prominent Democrat who has said he is exploring a possible bid for governor. He has not provided a timeline to declare other than saying he would decide by early 2023, according to The Times-Picayune.

Lake Charles attorney Hunter Lundy has announced he will run for governor as an independent.

GOP showdown

There is the potential for the Landry-Schroder matchup to mirror Republican battles at the national level, with both men touting their far right bonafides while attempting to appeal to more moderate voters to gain an edge.

In surreptitious fashion, the Louisiana Republican Party gave its official endorsement to Landry in October after he announced his candidacy. Schroder and Nungesser criticized the move, casting doubts on whether it reflects the view of rank-and-file GOP members. Before either made their intentions of running clear, the stage was set for a contentious campaign between Republicans.  

A preview of what’s to come in the governor’s race might be found in a debate between Schroder and Landry at the Louisiana Bond Commission last year. Landry was adamant that the commission deny funding for a New Orleans infrastructure project over city leaders’ stance against enforcing the state’s strict abortion restrictions. 

Schroder, who chairs the commission of state leaders and key lawmakers, didn’t spare Landry’s feelings when he argued that the vetting of projects to be funded happens in the legislature, and that the bond commission’s purview deals only with fiscal matters.  

While stressing his “staunch pro-life” views, the treasurer called out Landry for not enforcing violations of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ mask mandate during the early COVID-19 pandemic.

“Clearly, people were not following the law, which was set down by the governor, and the attorney general approved that,” Schroder said in July.

The treasurer also singled out Landry for his sparing attendance at commission meetings, although members can and do send subordinates in their place.  

After delaying funding approval for the New Orleans’ project for months, the bond commission ultimately approved it in December. Republicans on the panel who initially backed Landry’s viewpoint moved over to Schroder’s corner.

Nungesser’s decision

As Kennedy pondered a run for governor, Nungesser was most adamant that a viable Republican needed to enter the race to defeat Landry, who he described as “not a good person.” Nungesser seemed to be the likely option as he touted a campaign poll that showed him and Wilson in a dead heat with 23% support, and Landry at 22%. 

Schroder earned 2% backing in the Nungesser poll.

In a statement, Nungesser cited the work that remains in his current position as the chief factor in his decision to skip the governor’s race.

“…(T)he worst pandemic in our lifetime and a series of devastating storms leaves me with unfinished business to bring tourism back to its peak performance, especially for the near 250,000 families who rely on this industry for their livelihoods,” Nungesser said in the statement. “For that reason, and after much thought and prayer, I have decided to seek re-election to the Office of Lt. Governor.”

Nungesser would have been considered the most moderate Republican in the field, although Nelson’s support for legalizing recreational marijuana would make him unique among GOP contenders. The lieutenant governor has appeared in commercials with Edwards for an anti-litter campaign, and he opposed anti-LGBTQ proposals in the legislature as the state’s top tourism official.

On the flip side, Nungesser’s socks stole the show when President Donald Trump visited Louisiana in 2019. His hirsute hosiery depicted the president’s famous combover. 

Nungesser also called on Trump for help keeping Confederate monuments in place, a stance that would have likely hurt him with liberal voters. The lieutenant governor also said he would boycott New Orleans Saints games as long as the NFL permitted players to kneel in protest during the national anthem.

There’s also the matter of scandal in Nungesser’s background. The Louisiana Legislative Auditor dinged him when he was Plaquemines Parish president for his authorization of lucrative recovery contracts after Hurricane Katrina without the required parish council approval.

In 2016 as lieutenant governor, Nungesser left Gov. Edwards out of the loop when he and state GOP chairman Roger Villere negotiated a $1 billion deal with a business in Iraq, The Advocate reported

Schroder background

The governor’s mansion would continue a political ascendancy for Schroder, 56, that began with a Louisiana House seat representing the Covington area. He served in the legislature from 2008 to 2017, when he won a race to finish Kennedy’s term after his U.S. Senate win. Schroder won a full term as treasurer in 2019.

No state treasurer has gone on to become governor of Louisiana, although Kennedy and Mary Landrieu have used the position as a springboard to the U.S. Senate. The main public-facing aspect of the treasurer’s job is regular outreach to citizens for unclaimed property.

Before his full-time role in politics, Schroder ran a real estate and development business with his wife, Ellie. He is a graduate of East Jefferson High School in Metairie and Southeastern Louisiana University.

Schroder earned a reputation in the legislature as a fiscal conservative, even though it put him at odds with Republican Party leadership. He was a frequent critic of former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s practice to use one-time money to fund annually recurring expenses, typically resulting in mid-year budget cuts in sensitive areas such as higher education and health care. 

The treasurer’s run for governor comes as the state faces a so-called fiscal cliff in 2025, when a 0.45% portion of the state sales tax will lapse. Some lawmakers have proposed peeling off that portion gradually, but proposals to do so have not gained traction. Last year, a House bill that would have cut $138 million in state revenue advanced but died in the Senate.  

As treasurer, Schroder has embraced deep conservative viewpoints, such as his strong opposition to the environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles investment banks and rating agencies have adopted. In October, he removed nearly $800 million in state treasury funds from BlackRock Inc., the world’s largest asset manager, for its ESG policies.

“The whole ESG fight is, in my mind, over feel-good type of policies and not about dollars and cents,” Schroder said in a November interview. “It’s not about whether I can pay my bills back. It’smore about what my thoughts are on certain environmental positions. Well, that has nothing to do with whether I can pay my bills.” 

Schroder has also moved the state away from banking deals with companies that refuse to do business with gunmakers.

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